A Valentine Gift

By Ann Klein based on imagery of Hedy Schiefler and Imago Couple’s therapy

The couple sat face to face
Holding hands
Looking into each other’s eyes
Studying the landscape of the other’s face
With new discoveries
In the ‘sacred space’ between them

Taking long, deep breaths
Thinking of the kindnesses each has received from the other
Filling the ‘sacred space’ with positive, nurturing energy

The host inviting their partner to visit
The visitor accepting with curiosity
Crossing the bridge to where their partner lives
Listening with understanding and compassion
Keeping safe the ‘sacred space’

And so the visits continue back and forth
To open up to new ideas
To see each other in new ways
Honoring each other’s differences
The miracle of ‘connection’
In the ‘sacred space’ between them

Giving gifts of kindness
Sharing words of love
Each helping the other to grow
In the ‘sacred space’ between them.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.

What Should Parents Tell Their Children?

Following the Tragedy at Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut
on December 14, 2012

It is so difficult to know the right thing to say. It depends on your child’s age, previous experiences, and temperament (some children are more sensitive than others),

Even though many of our children live far away from Newtown, they may have feelings of fear, anxiety, and confusion. They may ask questions, such as, “Why were the children killed and will this happen in our school?”

  • Answer questions honestly and directly based on your child’s age.
  • Don’t overwhelm young children with too much information.
  • You can assure them that they are safe. The killer is no longer alive.
  • Invite them to speak to you whenever they need to.

With reassurance and love, they should be able to get on with their lives. If not, you may want to seek professional help. At this time, it is also recommended that parents limit  exposure to watching the event on TV and seeing violent movies, and even video games.

Some children may have already experienced violence in their schools through bullying or may have been exposed to violence on their streets or in their homes. Some of these children may experience traumatic symptoms. For younger children, there may be more temper tantrums and nightmares. For older children, there might be sleep disturbances, appetite changes, and lack of participation at home and in school. They may need professional help. You can start with the guidance counselor, social worker, or school psychologist.

Don’t forget yourselves. You too, as parents, have been affected by this horrific crime and may worry about your child’s safety in school. Be sure to share your feelings and concerns with others. You need to take care of yourselves so you can help your children.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.


Money Talk for Couples Part I: Influences from the Past and the Present

One of the hardest topics for many couples to talk about is money. When and how to bring this up; early on in the dating stage or perhaps when the relationship is more serious? Many couples married for a long time have a hard time discussing issues around money. Why is this so difficult to do?  Money has underlining implications for many of us defining prestige, power, security, and self-worth. Spending money can even serve as a way of self-soothing from stress (getting a ‘chemical high’ from buying).

What are the messages we learn from our society about money? One is you work hard and the more you earn is determined by a combination of your educational level,  risk-taking abilities, and effort. But we know this is not always true. Perhaps you inherited money or you’re in a valued field, such as certain sciences or math. You might have put a lucky beat on a fund and made a tremendous amount. This can affect decision-making around money. Some high earners believe they should have more say around purchasers because they make so much more than their partner. This can cause a lot of friction for the couple. Other couples look at the contributions both make to the relationship without the belief that the higher earner has more power.

Another message from our society is the marketing of material goods that we may think we need which we can do without. Especially with the availability of credit cards, many believe we’ve become a ‘nation of over spenders’ (of course this isn’t true for everyone). This could lead to a couple living beyond their means, incurring lots of debt.

What messages did you receive in childhood which have shaped your view of money? It can be helpful for couples to make a multigenerational money tree to show and discuss the different messages they have been exposed to. For example, one’s father could have been a spender avoiding any kind of budget; while the mother was so busy trying to make ends meet and even to save. This pattern may have been passed down from one generation to the next. The couple can then discuss how these patterns may be present in the relationship.

Does money bring happiness, security, prestige, and self-worth? We all need a certain amount of money to live, which is determined by many factors, such as, geographical location, medical complications, etc. Beyond that, having more money gives us more options. Money might bring ‘peace of mind,’ but rarely happiness or the security of being in loving relationships. If you equate money with self-worth, what will happen if you lose your job due to factors out of your control? Many of you may have lost your savings in the Recession of 2008. Rather than equating losing your job or money with self-worth, it can be determined by your accomplishments and valuable relationships that you have built over time.

It is important to become aware of your ‘money style’ and how this affects your relationship. Olivia Mellan in Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts In Your Life and Relationships presents ‘money personality types.’ You can find out your type by taking her online quiz online at http://www.moneyharmony.com/MHQuiz.html. Are you mainly an ‘amasser,’ ‘avoider,’  ‘hoarder,’ money monk’ (who thinks money is dirty and can corrupt you), or a ‘spender?’  You may identify with several aspects of these traits and it can change over time. Many people get involved with partners who have opposite ‘types.’ For example, a ‘spender’ may hook up with a ‘hoarder.’

It is recommended that early on in a relationship, conversations about money need to be discussed. This dialogue needs to continue on a regular basis throughout the relationship. How to do this will be the topic of the next blog.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.


Practical Tips in Choosing A Mate

June is the month when many couples plan their weddings. What about their marriages? It’s hard to know what to expect unless you’ve been through it before. Hopefully, couples with ‘successful marriages’ can bring wisdom from their experiences. I will share with you their thoughts of how to choose the ‘right’ person for marriage.

  1. Beware of the ‘chemical high’ of ‘romantic love.’ Yes, it’s important to be attracted to your partner, but it is not enough for a long-term marriage. You want to find ‘lasting love’ which takes time and hard work (see Blog 5).
  2. You probably already know to find someone with common values and interests. Of course interests can change over the lifetime of the marriage. This can have a positive effect, bringing in new experiences for both of you to share. Yes, before marriage you need to decide how you will handle finances, in-laws, religion, etc.
  3. Pick someone with ‘good character traits.’ Some of the most important ones are being kind (not only to you, but towards others); responsible (follows through on promises, is dependable); respectful (listens to your concerns without putting you down); flexible (willing to compromise); loyal (being there for you, being supportive); and thoughtful (thinking of you and your needs and not always their own).
  4. One of the most overlooked qualities that are so important in living with a person is their temperament. What research has shown, based on the work of Dr. Stella Chase and Dr. Alex Thomas, is that we are born with certain temperaments through our genes or other biological means. What this means is that some of us are easy-going, adapt to new situations without a fuss, and handle frustration with relatively little anxiety. Others of us tend to react to the world negatively and intensely, become easily frustrated, impatient, stubborn, and have difficulty adjusting to new situations. And many of us fall in between. The important thing to remember is that we are born with these temperaments. Yet, they are not set in stone. We can become aware of some of these behaviors that interfere with our relationships and compensate for them. In a relationship, look for someone who is slow to anger and doesn’t carry a grudge and can handle anxious situations with relative calmness (even if they have to do deep breathing or walk around the block to cool down).
  5. Find someone you feel emotionally safe with. This means you can fully be yourself, express your thoughts, feelings, and concerns without being judged or feeling controlled (otherwise, this can lead to an abusive relationship). Make sure you are friends who make each other feel good about who you are individually and as a couple.
  6. Pick someone who puts you first before extended family, work, the Internet, and hobbies. This does not mean giving up your families and there will be times you will be needed to help a sick relative. You want to be connected to your families (especially, if they are supportive) and at the same time establish your own rituals as a couple.
  7. Be cautious of your partner’s use of alcohol as this easily can lead to an addiction and can ruin a relationship.
  8. Certain behaviors of your partner you cannot change, such as, character, personal hygiene, and many habits. So don’t expect to. However, know in ‘good marriages’ you both can help each other reach your ‘full potentials,’ becoming  confident, competent human beings.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.

What is Love? How Do You Keep It Once You Find It?

Many couples come into my practice disillusioned about love. When they met or some time after, they said they experienced intense feelings of ‘love.’ After a few years of marriage, they wonder where this feeling of love went to. We talk about ‘romantic love.’ According to Helen Fisher, anthropologist and author of Why We Love, couples in love experience great changes in their brains. The dopamine level rises and the serotonin decreases giving the brain a ‘chemical high;’ thus creating a wanting and craving for their partners. Many couples become obsessed with each other. At this point, they may overlook many of the traits of their partner that will cause disagreements later on. According to Dr. Fisher ‘romantic love’ is a way of bringing couples together. In addition to this, when a couple experience orgasms in their love making, the bonding hormones oxytocin and vasapressin are released. So what should you do to keep the love going?

While romantic love is a feeling, real love is a verb. This means it is important how you treat your partner and it takes being conscious of the relationship and the needs of your partner to sustain love: moving from the idea of ‘You and I are one and I’m the one’ to ‘we are two separate people and we are not expected to always agree.’ How to do this takes both discipline and patience. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Come up with a plan to deal with disagreements in a respectful way. See my earlier blog, Couples’ Difficulties in Communicating, for suggestions.
  2. Be careful of the words you use. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote a wonderful little book called, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely.
  3. Language is so important in a relationship. Be intentional how you bring up a complaint without blaming or putting your partner down. Tone and gestures are crucial too. Raising your voice will also raise your partner’s blood pressure according to the research of Dr. John Gottman.
  4. Dr. Gary Chapman, a pastor, wrote a book called the Five Languages of Love. He wrote about small, caring behaviors that each partner can do for the other. Each partner has a favorite one or two. What are they? He lists them as words of affirmation (saying, “I love you,” giving compliments); acts of service or kind deeds (bringing tea, emptying out the dishwasher); tangible gifts (flowers, magazines); physical touch (holding hands, giving a massage); and spending quality time together. The key is to give your partner what they want, not what you think they want. Just ask and write their answers down such as,  “I feel loved when you . . .”

Yes, there is a lot of work being in a relationship. Love is a choice. By the way, Dr. Fisher discovered that some couples in long-term marriages still experience ‘romantic love’ along with feelings of strong attachments.

Let me know what works for you as a couple.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.